By Luka Kolakusic, @dream_shake
By the time you’ve read this blog, Arsenal will have signed Benzema, Reus, Busquets and apparently, Llorente, according to my sources. Right, now that I have your attention, let’s move on. A wise man once said: “Leave the past in the past and look forward to the future.” I respectively disagree, to some extent, but who am I to argue with the wise man? Fully aware of the fact that I’m in great danger of experiencing his wrath and punishment, I’ve taken upon this great challenge.
15th May 2004, as I was picking up the pieces of a broken jar once filled with delicious homemade apricot jam, Dennis Bergkamp sent this definition of perfection to Patrick Vieira to seal off Arsenal’s unbeaten 2003-04 Premier League campaign. Hard to think of a better possible way to mark the culmination of a truly magnificent era. A special golden EPL trophy was given to Arsenal as a reward for their amazing, never since repeated accomplishment. Unfortunately, back then my knowledge of football could fit in two short sentences. In addition, it would be extremely unreasonable to expect that a nine-year-old boy could comprehend the true magnitude of such event. Younger fans, myself included, have only one “person” to thank for saving precious memories of glorious days like the aforementioned one: YouTube.
In football, as in everything else, there are good times, and then there are those less good, difficult, bad, heartbreaking, devastating or different times. I’m gifting you the privilege to pick one of these adjectives. In Arsenal’s case, the transitional period lasted just shy of 10 years. TEN! That’s about the average lifespan of a pigeon. In eight seasons since 2004-05 till 2012-13, Arsene Wenger’s squad finished above the 3rd place in league standings zero times and won the same number of trophies during that span, not counting the likes of the ever prestigious Emirates Cup and Amsterdam Tournament. Based on presented information, it would not be wrong to say it’s been a series of disappointing campaigns, especially in the eyes of, shall I say, more experienced Gooners whom were used to a certain amount of success and were understandably heading into every season with high expectations.
In midst of it all, something rather momentous was happening. Pushed by increased influx of cash in football and motivated by potential financial and global growth of the club, Arsenal’s board and owners made the decision to build a bigger, modernized stadium. 7th May 2006, Arsenal said farewell to Highbury by beating Wigan 4-2 with the help of Thierry Henry’s hat-trick, sending more than 38,000 people home with the everlasting image of him kissing the holy ground of what was the club’s home for 93 years.
It took years of patience, lack of silverware and monetary restrictions to start seeing the advantages brought by the Emirates Stadium; a 60,000-seat piece of modern architecture. Players had to be sold not because they were considered not good enough, but because of the stadium debt. It was difficult for me to understand that five or six years ago. My general response to articles similar to this one was “Always the same pathetic excuses!” To be clear, never has there been any doubt in my mind about Arsene’s ability to produce success. After all, his previous record spoke for itself. The issue was my inability or even reluctance to understand the true dimensions of club’s financial limitations. To tell you the truth, math was never my strong suit. I remember my father telling me over and over again “Arsenal need six to seven players to properly compete for trophies.”
Naturally, I blindly negated his claims, as every other biased fan would. We defend our club and, perhaps more often then we should have, overestimated the strength of it’s squad. Some call it ‘delusion’, but I prefer ‘belief’. Every single soul – whether it was sitting in front of a TV trying to tame the remote with its sweaty hands, or screaming in the stands filled with regret over spending a fiver on a not-so-good hot dog during halftime break – goes into each and every game believing the squad can pull it off. To me, there’s no point entering the battle with negative thoughts squirming inside your head. Same goes for the players and staff members.
There’s a different feeling around Arsenal presently. Even though consecutive FA Cup wins are what most consider to be crucial factors in a more extensive process, they represent just a part of it. Just as 2013 summer transfer window was about to be closed, a Sky Sports reporter announced the transfer of Mesut Özil, a player whose touch makes lovers of pure football touch themselves (See what I did there? Clever, huh?). It was, albeit primarily a massive injection of quality right in the veins of a squad in great need for talent, a show of ambition and a sign with a message, written in all caps, pointed directly at the top echelon of club football: ARSENAL IS BACK IN THE GAME! DEAL WITH IT! Just a year later, a Tocopilla kid with the superpower to run, run and run some more (maybe his father was a marathon runner), wore a tight red and white Puma shirt and played the best debut season for Arsenal since a certain French striker made his introduction to English football (no, not Yaya Sanogo). In addition, the recent signing of Petr Cech, now former Chelsea goalkeeper, could prove to be the transfer of the season.
Although big-money transfers are what fans are most excited by nowadays, other occurrences deserve more acknowledgment. Last season, newly employed fitness coach, Shad Forsythe, started implementing fresh training and conditioning methods, consequently improving squad’s injury record. Of course, Magic Shad was not the only fresh face in Wenger’s army of helpers. In a recent interview for Arsenal.com, The Boss stated “When I arrived Arsenal Football Club was 80 people. Today it’s 537…Hopefully in 20 years we will be 2,500,“ expressing his satisfaction with the growth of the club from an organizational standpoint.
In terms of squad size and its quality, there seems to be a level of healthy competition, with players pushing each other’s limits in training for their effort to get noticed by coaches. One must want the position more than the other and show his desire by giving 110% seven days a week. On another level, the manager is blessed with a bevy of different tactical options to employ, depending on a particular opposition’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Ramsey and Wilshere were occasionally used as a wingers/wide midfielders during the course of last season. Furthermore, the man with the quietest feet in football, Santi Cazorla, has the ability to cover 4 different positions on the field. It’s not the easiest task to pick the starting eleven, that’s for sure. When all is said and done, the current team possesses enough talent and cohesion to properly contend for major trophies; year in, year out.
There it is, my two cents on whatever I was rambling about. I’m now realizing it’s closer to 200 than two cents, but let’s not get tangled into a complex web of formalities. Anyway, I’m off to hide from one raging wise man. I’ll probably end up under the kitchen sink, so feel free to suggest some other good hiding spots in the comments section. Hope you enjoyed reading. Cheers!
Written by Luka Kolakusic . Contact him at @dream_shake.